The Shadow Chipmunk

Every wild animal we treat lives a life that is whole and complete regardless of size or age, whether covered in pelage, feather or scales, or at whatever speed they pass through their experiences! Some animals live for years and even decades (including ants!), some live for less than a month. Some live the normal lifespan for their species, some die very young. But it doesn’t matter where you land in the various spectrums, your time here is your own and freedom demands that you make it count!

One quick little animal who occupies a relatively small range in the West – which thankfully includes much of California’s Redwood coast – is Tamias senexor as this small member of the squirrel family is more commonly known, the Shadow chipmunk, or Allen’s chipmunk, and in the Wiyot language, Salás.
The area shaded green represents the known range of Tamias senex, the Shadow chipmunk, in California.

Found in our state, as well as Nevada and Oregon, the only area this chipmunk’s range reaches the ocean is here in northern Humboldt and southern Del Norte counties, between the Eel and the Klamath rivers. North of the Klamath we find Tamias siskiyou or, the Siskiyou chipmunk and south of the Eel is Tamias ochrogenys, or the Yellow-cheeked chipmunk.

Mostly arboreal, nesting in trees as far as 70 feet off the ground, the social Shadow chipmunk typically lives from four to eight years. Weighing less than 100 grams, the females slightly larger than males, Shadow chipmunks dash through the forests and forest edges. While no one knows how fast a Shadow chipmunk can run, other subspecies are know to exceed 20 miles an hour.

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Quick as they are, they still can’t always outrun those who also must eat to live. Coyotes, hawks, raccoons, bobcat, all hunt these quickly darting, always aware rodents. Even owls can pose a threat at the shift change each day between our diurnal and nocturnal wild neighbors. Among these challenges, and in this community, the Shadow chipmunk persists and thrives, storing seeds, enjoying berries and mushrooms, taking care of business on their own side of the street and working hard for the success of future generations of Tamias senex.

At Humboldt Wildlife Care Center, we’ve admitted four T. senex since the beginning of this year. The first, admitted in June, too young to be on his own, was found cold and unresponsive on the trail at College Cove near Trinidad in northern Humboldt. Sadly the youngster did not live long, dying shortly after being admitted. The other three, all adults, were each admitted in the last two weeks! As is far too commonly the case, each was a victim, not of a natural predator, but of an un-contained house cat (Felis domesticus). This rehabilitator/writer’s own Felis domesticus safely indoors.

While many are unwilling to accept the very real threat to wild populations that feral and un-contained house cats pose, or laugh off the damage seen when a beloved furry member of their family who is permitted to roam freely brings a wild victim through the door, as wildlife rehabilitators and as cat advocates, we must urge that our ownership of long-domesticated predators makes us responsible for the injuries and deaths to our wild neighbors that they cause. Dogs too can pose a threat to wild animals. There is no natural sense or justice in the slaughter of wild animals by our pets. There are many excellent ways to protect wildlife, keep cats and dogs safely contained and still provide our companions with a rich and enjoyable life. Catios, harnesses and supervision can all allow house cats the enjoyment of the outdoors and keep them and our wild neighbors safe! Search the internet! The truth is out there!

Of the three chipmunks admitted this month, one did not make it, and one is still in care with a good prognosis, and one was released last week.

The morning of his release, after a week of antibiotics and only minor wounds, this Shadow chipmunk escaped from his housing before getting his evaluation and evaded re-capture for nearly an hour while his pursuer (me) made a complete fool of himself. He was definitely ready to go! Watch the video closely, he makes a very brief appearance!

The fourth chipmunk is currently in care, suffering a few puncture wounds that by themselves would heal well, but were potentially fatal due to the harmful bacteria found in cat saliva. A week of antibiotics ends tomorrow and after at least a day more of monitoring, this chipmunk stands a very good chance of being released as well. We’ll update this post when we can!

A dose of antibiotics os administered – small but mighty, protective gloves are always a good idea when handling adult wild rodents! 
A simply wonderful tail!

From rare seabirds to Shadow chipmunks, we operate Humboldt Wildlife Care Center to benefit all of our wild neighbors as best as we can, and to always promote co-existence – live and let live! Your support makes our work possible! Because of your help we are here 7 days a week, 365 days a year, providing the needed care for our region’s injured and orphaned wild animals. Please donate if you can. Every dollar helps! Thank you!


Hot Sparks of Life* – Four Squirrels Go Home

 *”The [Douglas Squirrel] is the brightest of all squirrels I have ever seen, a hot spark of life, making every tree tingle with his prickly toes, a condensed nugget of fresh mountain vigor and valor, as free from disease as a sunbeam. He seems to think the mountains belong to him. How he scolds, and what faces he makes, all eyes, teeth, and whiskers. If not so comically small he would indeed be a dreadful fellow.”  John Muir, My First Summer in the Sierra

On almost any day that you decide to take a walk in Arcata’s Community Forest, you’ll likely be scolded by a small gray backed, rusty bellied squirrel who will run headlong down a giant redwood to tell you exactly what you are doing all wrong!

Douglas Squirrels (Tamiasciurus douglasii) are notorious for their harsh critique of the anthroposphere throughout their range of the Pacific Northwest. Has any human, or human’s pet, met with their approval? No.

Although easily seen in broad daylight, another of Muir’s observations remains true: “He is, without exception, the wildest animal I ever saw, –a fiery, sputtering little bolt of life.”

However, when something disturbs their den site, all the wildness in the world can’t save squirrels who are too young to survive on their own.

In the case of the four young Douglas Squirrels who we admitted in early August at Humboldt Wildlife Care Center, a kind man found them scattered and struggling around the base of a tall Redwood deep in the Arcata Community Forest. We don’t know what happened to their nest, only that no parents were seen and the young Squirrels were lethargic and barely moving. He scooped them up and carried them to our clinic a few miles away on his bicycle.

Too young to be on their own, cold and dehydrated, we admitted them for care. Soon, after receiving fluids and spending some time in an incubator, they were active and looking for food. We started them on mixture of milk replacer and ground seed. Within ten days they were strictly eating whole seed plus a lot more!

After a few weeks in care, the four sibling Squirrels were moved to outdoor housing to gain the benefits of exercise and some relief from constant proximity to human care providers. 

After being weaned from a milk replacer, the youngsters were provided a varied diet that consisted of foods similar to what they would eat once they were free – a mixture of seeds, berries and mushrooms.

Rounding up Douglas Squirrels for routine exams is always a challenge!

We never underestimate the power of an angry Squirrel. Rodent teeth can really hurt!

After four weeks in care, our Squirrel patients were ready to go home – here is their living room. The person who found the Squirrels originally gave us detailed directions that allowed us to find the exact location – one more piece of the puzzle that will help ensure that these Hot Sparks will thrive in wild freedom.

Is anything more precious than a box of Squirrels? An HWCC volunteer prepares to unleash the fury!

The first Squirrel to leave the box scopes out the scene.

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The satisfaction of helping the wild survive alongside the harsh realities of human civilization is a reward like no other.

The face of wild freedom running fiercely through the Community forest.

Upon release, our volunteers noted that there were several adult squirrels in the immediate area. We are sure that we’ve successfully returned these youngsters to their family. Now with their second chance, which was possible because of your support, these youngsters will carry their fiery torch forward. Next year, they’ll have babies of their own and the seasons and our lives roll on. Thank you for providing us the resources we need to be able to help whoever it is that comes through our door. Our wild neighbors in jeopardy, whether an injured adult or displaced orphan would have nowhere to go without your generosity. If you’d like to donate, click here, – every little bit helps!

all photos: Laura Corsiglia/BAX


Fawns of 2017!

Each year we are the only resort several Black-tailed Deer (Odocoileus hemionus) fawns have. Orphaned by trucks, cars, and sometimes dogs, young fawns are brought to Humboldt Wildlife Care Center, our wildlife hospital in Bayside, California. A young fawn, often traumatized by the death of her mother, requires specialized care. Typically, young fawns are uninjured and their health is compromised only to the extent that they have been without maternal care. The sooner we receive orphaned deer, the better their chances for survival.

Convincing a fawn that a bottle of formula can replace his mother is no easy trick. And the danger, of course, as with all wild babies, is that our close contact will habituate the orphan to people, who will come to see people as non-threatening. Again, as with all wild animals, this is a dangerous condition. It is simply a fact that wild animals who do not have a fear of humans and human activity are at much greater risk of being injured and killed by people. So steps are taken to disguise the caregiver and as quickly as possible, help the fawn adapt first to the bottle, and second to a bottle rack. Once fawns makes that leap, we sharply reduce our interactions with them until it is time for them to be released, and they make the leap to freedom.

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Bottles are delivered at scheduled times, gradually increasing in amount as the fawns grow, and then decreasing as we wean them from milk replacer to greens. It takes a lot of leaves to raise a healthy fawn!

From admission at a few days old in May it usually is the end of August or early September before they are old enough to join a herd without a mother of their own. This year we released four fawns. Following are pictures from their care and from their big day of new freedom!

Just admitted. Despondent and still following mom’s instructions: Pretend you’re not there and they wont see you.

In care for a month, the gang of orphans form a indisputable bond.

At least twice a day fresh “greens” are offered. It takes a lot of effort to replicate Mama Deer and Mother Earth!

Release day! 

“The last you’ll see of me!” 

For next year we need to greatly expand our available fawn housing. This year we got lucky in the low number of orphaned deer we admitted. In the past we’ve had as many as 14! We’ll be increasing our capacity, but we’ll need your help. Housing that is large enough and protected from predators will take community support to build. As always, we ask you to please help us help our injured and orphaned wild neighbors. You can donate here to support our work, including preparing a better facility for 2018! Thank you!

All photos: Bird Ally X/Laura Corsiglia

our photographer:

Laura Corsiglia set up for the fawn release. (photo by Carol “the Deer Lady” Andersen)